Should Illustrators Plan a Back-Up Career?
Question: I’m concerned about the future of illustration. I love illustrating, but I’m afraid that if the company I work for goes under I won’t be able to make a living illustrating. I feel like it would be in my best interest to learn web design since that seems to be the safest market in the design field right now. What is your opinion?
Illustration is not going anywhere, but trends do shift and you must be educated and prepared to “shake things up” so you shift along with them and your work doesn’t look dated.
The best way to ease your concerns about the future of illustration is to keep current on styles, trends, mediums and technology. A bookstore is an excellent source for seeing how illustration is being used – there are books, magazines, music packaging, calendars and an entire children's section with endless illustrations. Of course, one very common trend now is incorporating illustration work into web projects, so if you’re interested in web design and have the time and resources to learn it, go for it.
Image ©Anastasia Vasilakis
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
My biggest concern for our industry is the abundance of stock sites and agencies that charge very little for an image, meaning even less money in your pocket and less respect for your talent.
There’s nothing wrong with selling an image for which the contract/licensed has expired, but the fees should be respectable. Just because the piece is done and not attached to a license doesn’t mean it should be licensed for an extremely low rate. The fees should still be determined by usage/rights required.
I know of websites that sell stock so inexpensively through monthly memberships that artists make between $28 and $0.28 per image, depending on the usage. It may be tempting to add your old images to these sites for a few extra dollars, but I urge you to rethink that. Obviously, this is bad for the industry. Do your research, as there are websites that do charge a respectable amount for the rights required and that will mean better pay for you. It’s worth checking out.
Put Your Eggs in Different Baskets
Now, back to the worries of losing a long-term client. Of course, this does happen.
As I said, clients and artists need to keep up with the latest trends and sadly, that may mean changing up a style for a monthly column that you may have been illustrating for years. Or perhaps your longstanding client is going out of business. There’s no light way to look at it: things change.
When they do, this is the time to put in extra work researching those latest trends and figuring out how your skills and talent fall within them, and then creating samples to support them. This doesn’t mean abandoning the style that you may be known for - unless it’s truly dated and time to do so - but it could mean coming up with a new style or freshening up your approach to give it a new, more modern feel.
In my experience, artists who continuously draw – whether through commissioned clients or for samples – are the artists who are the most busy. Having an array of samples gives me the opportunity to reach out to a specific client depending on what the sample is. The more that I have in my files for each artist, the more markets and clients I can contact.
The best advice that I can give is to build up a client base so you don’t have to rely on one client for all of your income. And of course, keep up with trends and continue to create work as much as possible (how about daily sketches?), even if it’s for samples only. Then figure out, specifically, who should see your stuff – and then get it seen!
Artists only get better with experience and age. But you already know that.
Michael Thibeault is the founder Art Rep NYC, an agency representing the very best in illustration and motion graphics talent, both independently and also provide full illustration/motion graphics packages. Some clients: The New York Times, Williams Sonoma, WNET / Thirteen, Simon & Schuster, The Wall Street Journal, Proctor and Gamble, New York Magazine, Nickelodeon, Harper Collins, Penguin, Scholastic, Mattel, MAC cosmetics, Nylon Magazine and more. Art Rep NYC
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